Bill’s Best Bets – September 2017

Cabernet sauvignons I actually like!
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I recently told a group of wine writer friends recently that I’m “over” red wine. I still drink reds and enjoy a great bottle, but both intellectually and from an enjoyment perspective, I find the world of white wines much more diverse and stimulating.

The fact that I am a “white wine guy,” doesn’t diminish my appreciation for reds. I just like whites more. I still enjoy a steak from time to time, and as what I’m eating inspires my wine choices, I have been testing out some “big red wines.” I have even been drinking cabernet sauvignon, a grape that I have a definite love/hate relationship with.

When it’s grown in the right place, cabernet sauvignon can produce some of the world’s most exceptional and long lived wines. Unfortunately, as it has exploded in popularity over the last decade, and is now the world’s most planted grape variety, it has been planted in areas where it probably shouldn’t.

Like all grape varieties, it’s a question of the right climate and soil. Too cool and cabernet sauvignon won’t ripen and can have hard tannins and taste overly of green peppers. Too warm, and the tannins become overly soft and aromatically monotonous and boring, which is why it is so often “flavoured” by oak. What I look for is a wine that shows either cassis or blackberry flavours, and interesting herbal element, and finely layered tannins that still grip. It is this tannin quality where cabernet sauvignon excels.

So let’s start in a place which has become one of my favourites for “cab” – Bolgheri, in Italy’s Tuscany. The 2014 Poggio al Ginepri from Tenuta Argentiera is a beautiful example of finding the right line between ripeness and acidity. A touch more classically Italian, with a touch more acidity and grippier tannins, the 2015 Il Bruciato from Guado al Tasso is a great choice. Another more Bordelais-styled example is the 2015 Greppicante, which is the perfect wine for a rack of lamb with its subtle herbal expression. And at $20, a relative bargain as well.

Tenuta Argentiera Poggio Ai Ginepri 2014Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2015I Greppi Greppicante Bolgheri 2015

While Bolgheri is making a great reputation for its cabernet and Bordeaux styled blends, Spain doesn’t get enough credit. In the Penedes region, Torres produces a number of excellent wines. At under $20, it’s hard to find a better cabernet than the 2013 Gran Coronas. Classic blackberry fruit with perfectly ripe tannins. But if you want complexity and age ability, then the 2011 Mas La Plana is a treat and fairly priced just over $60.

Staying Spain, the 2016 El Bonhomme is a powerful and nicely textured, though non-traditional blend of cabernet and monastrell. And while it is a minority part of the blend, the 2014 Montsant Mas Collet is an exceptionally finessed wine for its $18 price tag.

Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013Mas La Plana 2011El Bonhomme 2016Mas Collet Montsant 2014

Chile remains one of my favourite sources for cabernet in the world. Price-wise, it is a world leader in quality and affordability. The 2016 Quatro from Montgras is an interesting blend of cabernet with carmanere, malbec and syrah that is a classic easy-drinking barbecue wine. For a “pure” cabernet, the 2013 Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva once again lives up to its well-earned reputation of affordability and finesse.

Chile’s neighbour, Argentina, has also been doing some good things with cabernet sauvignon. Two wines, the Zuccardi Q and the Trapiche 2013 Medalla offer up classic cabernet dark berries with an interesting herbal element. Nice to see these wineries moving away from the “big and bold” style to a more refined version of the grape.

Montgras Quatro 2016Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Zuccardi Q Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Trapiche Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

I haven’t mentioned the heavyweight cab producers, Bordeaux and California, as I decided to venture into other regions. We’ll save those recommendations for the next time I go “cab.”


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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